LOS ANGELES — The UCLA-USC women’s basketball rivalry was strengthened Saturday night in front of a crowd of 13,659 at Pauley Pavilion.
No. 2 UCLA still has the upper hand in this rivalry after beating No. 6 USC, 71-64, in an unforgettable Pac-12 opener to remain undefeated. This is the Bruins’ ninth straight win over the Trojans and fourth win over a ranked team this season.
“I will boldly say it was the hottest ticket in any men’s or women’s sport today in Southern California,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “That means something.”
Londynn Jones was everywhere for the Bruins (12-0) and finished the game with a team-high 21 points to go along with six rebounds. Lauren Betts added 15 points and eight rebounds and Kiki Rice added 12 points.
Standout freshman Juju Watkins recovered from a shaky start that left her visibly frustrated to finish with a double-double of 27 points and 11 rebounds for USC (10-1). McKenzie Forbes added 23 points.
“We haven’t played a team like this until now,” Watkins said. “So it was just getting used to the physicality and I had to slow him down and try to take him down.”
The Bruins opened with an 8-0 lead before Forbes made two free throws to put USC on the scoreboard. They guarded the Trojans hard, especially Watkins, who was averaging 26.8 points per game heading into the game.
Watkins was held to 1-for-5 shooting in the first quarter – but 4-for-4 on free throws – as UCLA took a 14-11 lead. At one point, Gabriela Jacquez recovered the ball as Watkins looked on. She introduced it to Charisma Osborne, who was also responsible for guarding Watkins, for a driving layup.
The Trojans called a timeout immediately afterward. USC’s pace picked up with Watkins in the second quarter. She completed a three-point play and scored a three-point basket early in the period to give her team the lead.
“Juju’s ability to understand in real time, with everything happening to him, is truly impressive.” said USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb.
“I saw that the first time we had a closed scrimmage when we went to play arguably the best man-to-man defensive team in the country: Texas. And the first time she put on that uniform, even then, I saw her adapt in real time.
Betts made a layup to break the streak and tie the game at 17-all. UCLA fought for points under the net and finished the game with 26 points in the paint.
Angela Dugalić (eight points, seven rebounds) made a deep three-pointer 37 seconds into the half to give UCLA a 38-37 advantage. Watkins had reached 18 points at the break to lead USC and Londynn Jones led UCLA with 11 points while grabbing four rebounds at that point in the game.
The Bruins outscored the Trojans 20-14 in the third quarter, but USC continued to come back and trailed by seven points heading into the fourth. UCLA’s scoring depth was there for the long haul, however, and held off USC for the rest of the game.
“You’ve heard me say this over and over again, but sometimes it’s you, sometimes me, always us,” Close said. “It’s easy to have a little sound in the slogan, but it’s hard to live with when maybe something doesn’t go your way. And that’s what I’m most proud of. That we have a balance.
Charisma Osborne (10 points) considered shooting a 3-pointer, but passed the ball to Lauren Betts as the shot clock neared expiration. Betts made the layup for a 65-61 lead and reminded USC of his team’s dominance in the paint and overall physicality.
“We have the best practice players ever and the guys don’t take it lightly,” Betts said. “That physicality starts in training and it goes against them every day.”
Extra rows of courtside seats as well as additional security, ushers and concessions personnel were brought in to accommodate the sold-out crowd and four food trucks were parked outside.
A crowd of UCLA women’s basketball alumni were recognized at half-court during a break in the game, and Russell and Nina Westbrook also came out to support them.
“If you’re not on the women’s basketball bandwagon, then you’re behind,” Gottlieb said. “It’s amazing to have little girls, little boys, the community, all kinds of people here to see strong women compete. I don’t think we fear this attention.
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